MANILA – The Philippines late on Friday (Jan 22) said it has found 16 new cases of the more contagious variant of the coronavirus, mostly in the northern part of the country.
In a statement, the Health Ministry said 12 of the cases were in Bontoc town, in Mountain Province, over 400km north of the capital Manila.
Two more infected persons were in La Trinidad town, in Benguet province, just south of Mountain Province, and in Calamba town, an hour’s drive south of Manila. Both have not travelled abroad and had no contact with anyone who tested positive for Covid-19.
Two more were overseas Filipino workers who returned from Lebanon on Dec 29. They were taken to government-run quarantine facilities and had already been discharged after they tested negative.
The Philippines reported its first case of the new coronavirus variant on Jan 13 involving a 29-year-old real estate agent living in the capital who went to Dubai for business from Dec 27 to Jan 7.
He tested positive a day after arriving back to the Philippines from Dubai. He had travelled there with his girlfriend, who initially tested negative but was later found to be positive for Covid-19, although it was not yet ascertained if she had the same variant.
The variant – officially known as VUI-202012/01, or lineage B117 – is believed to be 70 per cent more transmissible than previously circulating coronavirus variants.
First detected in Britain in late September, it has spread to at least 45 countries. But it is not thought to be more deadly or cause more severe illness.
The Philippines has extended a ban on travellers from over 30 countries and territories where a more contagious coronavirus variant has been detected.
The ban will now remain in force until Jan 31.
It includes travellers from Singapore, the United States, Britain, Japan, Australia, France, Germany, South Korea and China, including Hong Kong.
Returning Filipinos and expats with Filipino spouses or who have already taken residence in the Philippines are excluded from the ban, but they are required to go on a two-week quarantine and undergo a second swab test on the fifth day of their quarantine.
Health experts in the Philippines warned that the new variant could raise the country’s total coronavirus caseload 15 times.
Dr John Wong of health research institution Epimetrics said: “With our current reproduction rate of 1.1, 20,000 cases at the beginning of the month will be about 32,000 at the end of the month. But if the variant takes over, the 20,000 cases can become almost 300,000 cases by the end of the month.”
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